James McGowan Ensemble – ‘Reaching In’


Reaching In is a ravishing album from 13-piece group James McGowan Ensemble, an Ottawa-based project fusing classical and jazz fusion with artistic concepts, centered around spoken-word segments in three of the 16 tracks. “Imagine your life,” is a common start to these sequences, initiating a thoughtful introspection amongst gorgeous, climactic ranges of strings, piano, and other orchestration.

The opening “Imagine, Pt. 1” certainly sets a riveting stage. “Imagine your life disrupted,” the stirring spoken-word vocals appear amidst sporadic strings, joined shortly thereafter by a jazzy guitar crawl and an ominous rise with orchestral fervency. “Cue the minor key,” the vocals continue, as the eerie and unsettling depictions of “grief and despair,” continue to engross with theatrical qualities. The emotively charismatic classical workings of the ensemble are on full display with this riveting opener.

A compelling sound continues from there, with the subsequent “Thoughts and Prayers” being absent of vocals, and instead emphasizing a gorgeous orchestral range — enamoring particularly with the Ryuichi Sakamoto-esque weeping strings. The 7-minute “Grief and Despair” is further exemplary of a brooding appeal, with somber strings falling to a moment of brevity, before rising again with ample momentum. In the lusher, more optimistic-sounding realm, “Simple Reality” achieves an effervescent pulse in its string arrangements and piano additions. Reaching In is a gorgeous showcase in neo-classical instrumentation and conceptual pursuits from the James McGowan Ensemble.

“Thoughts and Prayers” and other tracks featured this month can be streamed on the updating Obscure Sound’s ‘Best of December 2023’ Spotify playlist.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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